It was snowing just about everywhere this week. I know because I watched the Weather Channel a bit and I could see the snow pile up outside of our hotel. Yes, we had the the good fortune of being snowed in at Kalahari, “America’s Largest Indoor Waterpark.” We had planned the trip almost six months ago and my focus was to enjoy a week with my bride and best buddy playing in the water. I had no real intention of participating in the “Unschooling” conference that was the reason we got such a good deal on our vacation. I figured that I would interact with a few parents and watch the parade of what I what I assumed would be socially challenged people from afar, but my focus was on my family and fun in the water. Needless to say, the experience was much different than I expected.
I found a group of people who were passionate about their children, who put family first (far beyond their career) and made the time to help their children follow their interests in creative ways. They were not the mere spectators that many parents have become, as they completely outsource educational development to the school system and athletic development to volunteer coaches. I arrived this week halfway thinking this would be the tipping point that convinced Marianne and me to put our son back in school (he attended public school for kindergarten, but he has been spending his first grade year at home), and things did tip, but in the other direction. Yes, I heard stories of children who couldn’t read at the age of 12 because they “just weren’t interested yet” and of others who spent the bulk of their days playing video games, but I also heard so much more. I heard about children exploring their passions, instinctively asking “how, why and why not,” and personally seeking answers to those questions, as their parents facilitated the journey.
When I look back upon my schooling, I was not intrinsically motivated at all and for that reason, I learned very little. I was not curious about my surroundings, nor did I care too much about how things worked. I was extremely extrinsically motivated and though I learned little, I had good grades that helped others believe otherwise. Like most children, my son is extremely curious, but I have been guilty of conditioning him to be extrinsically motivated (like I was as a child), which may ultimately cause him to lose the curiosity and passion that drives him today. I have been more focused on his basic math, while he wants to know how the brain works. I have been monitoring his spelling progress, while he wants to know more about ancient history and Greek gods. In essence, I have been pushing him towards things that make me feel better about his knowledge, skills and abilities (and how he measures up to fellow six year old boys) rather than facilitating the pursuit of his personal interests. I am failing him in the very way our public school system is failing so many. It is not about marching in step with those who share your physical age, nor is it about standardized test scores and allowing the least common denominator to decide when the group takes a step forward.
I am proud that my wife had the courage to pull my son out of school. I am also grateful that she has chosen to devote the majority of her waking time to his personal development in favor of pursuing a career with the aim of satisfying our materialistic appetite and potentially creating an insatiable material hunger in our son.
Though this week was a wonderful time at the waterpark, it turned out to be so much more. I arrived an interested father, skeptical of those who shun the formal educational system, and left one of two committed primary educational mentors for my son, embracing the idea that he may never feel the need to sit in a secondary education classroom. Life is too short to sit with a group of disinterested “peers” chasing a good grade to get into a good school so one can get a good job. In the end, it worked out for me (or did it?), but I am not willing to take that gamble again.
For those of you in uniform reading this, my experience this week really has given me reason to question our current vector on the formalization of a training/education continuum and the one size fits all career progression model. Professional development is so much more than the diploma and additional qualification designator (AQD) scavenger hunt we currently encourage. I also worry that such a model will continue to force our computer network operations (CNO) talent out of our wardroom, as we push our junior officers away from their passion and towards the model we currently house within our comfort zone. I also noticed that the CNO talent being cultivated via this educational development model is worthy of our deliberate recruiting efforts… many passionate cyber experts!